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The Linux desktop 'mess'
TechRepublic ^ | 8 April 2013 | Jack Wallen

Posted on 04/10/2013 5:50:05 AM PDT by ShadowAce

Takeaway: Is the Linux desktop really a “mess” as some pundits call it? Jack Wallen takes issue with this claim and explains why he thinks the desktop is getting a bad rap.

It seems nearly every pundit, every mouthpiece on the planet has decided that the Linux desktop is a “mess.” This “downfall” of the Linux desktop started with GNOME 3 and seemed to gain more momentum with Ubuntu Unity. I have a theory — and an idea for a fix.

Linux is all about choice. It’s always been that way; from the earliest inception of the desktop, the Linux community has enjoyed CFE, AfterStep, FluxBox, XFCE, Enlightenment, KDE, LXDE, Cinnamon …

Oh, and GNOME and Ubuntu Unity.

Actually, the list goes on and on.

I’ve used almost every Linux desktop — some good, some not so good. To say that GNOME 3 and Unity are a “mess,” well, I’m not sure I get that. When KDE 4 first arrived — that was a mess (it has, since then, come a long, long way). Windows 8 — that is a mess. But both GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity? Both are solid, stable desktops that not only work well, but help to make the user focus on the work and the keyboard. Both desktops are efficient. But different and unique.

But wait, doesn’t the Linux community thrive on that?

My theory is simple (and it’s one I’ll probably get blasted for):

The whole “mess” centers on GNOME 3 and Unity. They are the two key players in the battle. If you think about it, it’s not that GNOME 3 and Unity are all that different — it’s that they took on one of the favorite desktops (what is now called Classic GNOME) and radically altered it. So users of GNOME 2.x are forced to use something new and change the way they work.


The majority of Linux users are, at the core, much like other users — they don’t like change. I was always one of those who jumped from desktop to desktop, just for the fun of it. I enjoyed trying new things and seeing what each interface had to offer. Even though Enlightenment still stands as one of my all time favorite interfaces, I use Unity — because it’s so different (and it has some features that I’ve grown reliant upon). I have fond memories of experiencing the Minimalism of FluxBox and the trickery that can be used with AfterStep. But that’s not the way of the average user. The average user (and I don’t mean this as if it’s a bad thing) gloms onto one idea (or, in this case, interface) and holds on for dear life.

When KDE 4 first came out, the KDE community was in an uproar — and the differences between KDE 3 and 4 are minimal — relatively speaking. Eventually KDE 4 won over the hearts of the community and the desktop just keeps getting better and better. When GNOME 3 arrived, it looked as if it could have been a huge success, but then politics came into play, and the users felt like the developers weren’t listening to them… and in the end, you have a desktop that is actually quite good, but no one wants to use.

Unity has the same issue — with the added bonus of being strapped down by the backlash of a community that feels like Canonical is doing whatever it wants to Ubuntu Linux without a care or concern about their users.

Everyone just wants to go back to Classic GNOME and be done with it. Well, not everyone. In comparison to what we have now, Classic GNOME would look and feel like a dinosaur (to me, at least). So, yes, I am saying it seems as if it would take a giant step backwards to appease the majority of the Linux community.

We cannot afford to take even the tiniest step backward.

So, what is the solution? Simple: Merge GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity. Take the best of both and code them into a single, wonder-filled desktop. Bring the minds and talents of the developers of both teams together and have at it. Maybe the layout of GNOME 3, Unity’s Dash, the GNOME 3 notification system and pager, the Unity HUD, the GNOME 3 compositor, and so on. Set aside the whole Wayland/Mir debacle, come up with a plan, and create a desktop every member of the Linux community would be proud to use.

I know, the politics of the idea would hit critical mass and it would be nightmare to maneuver. But if done properly, it could win back the masses and continue the forward motion started by both desktops.

There are a lot of Linux users out there holding onto grudges because one desktop or another slighted their project or their favorite tool. It’s time we let go of that grudge and start thinking of the future. Linux is on a major precipice that could see it winning over a huge amount of users. With Windows 8 continuing to fail (and Microsoft doing nothing about it), the Linux community needs to look upon the current stagnation at Microsoft and take advantage of it. Merge, work together, accept, move on — whatever you have to do to look into the future and help the Linux desktop to get back on track.

TOPICS: Computers/Internet
KEYWORDS: choice; linux
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1 posted on 04/10/2013 5:50:05 AM PDT by ShadowAce
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To: rdb3; Calvinist_Dark_Lord; Salo; JosephW; Only1choice____Freedom; amigatec; stylin_geek; ...

2 posted on 04/10/2013 5:50:23 AM PDT by ShadowAce (Linux -- The Ultimate Windows Service Pack)
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ive test driven many distributions, and actually enjoyed puppy linux, the live versions, etc...

i have rescued many an old pc from the dump, slapped a linux distro of some sort on it, and off i went, no issues....

3 posted on 04/10/2013 5:55:49 AM PDT by raygunfan
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To: raygunfan

I run Linux Mint 9 and just recently installed it on my wife’s laptop, finally dumping Windows...

I’ve had no problems on either computer..

4 posted on 04/10/2013 6:00:51 AM PDT by Bigh4u2 (Denial is the first requirement to being a liberal)
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To: Bigh4u2

It is a very simple test to determine if linux measures up. Can a user with little or no knowledge about linux, and with the basic knowledge of interacting with the Windows desktop, successfully operate in the linux desktop? If they cannot, linux loses every time.

5 posted on 04/10/2013 6:22:29 AM PDT by SgtHooper (The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on the list.)
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To: Bigh4u2; raygunfan

I currently run XFCE on Fedora. It’s a great GP distro.

6 posted on 04/10/2013 6:23:11 AM PDT by ShadowAce (Linux -- The Ultimate Windows Service Pack)
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To: ShadowAce

I will say that Unity seems dreadfully slow and mal-designed to me.

However, desktop Wars have been going on for as long as I can remember. Why does anyone expect anything different?
Choice is a good thing and you have more choice then any other platform.

The truth however may be that the Linux desktop is more unified for most users then ever before and nobody has noticed because it is on your phone.

7 posted on 04/10/2013 6:24:10 AM PDT by The Free Engineer
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To: SgtHooper
Then it wins pretty handily.

My then-9-yo son downloaded a distro, burned it to DVD, and baremetal installed it on a computer while I was out of town. He had never before touched Linux.

8 posted on 04/10/2013 6:25:14 AM PDT by ShadowAce (Linux -- The Ultimate Windows Service Pack)
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To: ShadowAce

I got a windows 8 abortion on my new commuter and I cant think of any thing worse. Windows 3 was better. If you look for something and finally find it the next step will be over on the other side of the screen, that is after you finally get past the cartoon screen or touch screen thingy that is worse than worthless. I is in the way. Why can’t they let people arrange the things the way they are used to so you don’t have to explore the whole page every time you boot up.

9 posted on 04/10/2013 6:31:37 AM PDT by mountainlion (Live well for those that did not make it back.)
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To: ShadowAce

If you are a corporation with say 5000 desktop users on Windows XP or Windows 7, what does “choice” mean to you?

IF it means you have to spend thousands or maybe more dollars to TRAIN people on how to do simple things like sending/receiving email or printing (or even generating) their documents then it’s a losing proposition.

IMHO that was the greatest advantage of the early Windows (95,ME,even 2000) systems. It was WYSIWYG.

Plain. Simple.

You could run a windows system and not really even know much about windows.

What the heck does the 4 windows deal in Linux really represent? Why can’t I ever use the MAN command and figure out how even to close it and go back to where I was?

Linux is a dam mess.

You do not get productivity out of changing (or ENHANCING) user interfaces.

(mainframe systems engineer since 1985!!!)

10 posted on 04/10/2013 6:37:24 AM PDT by djf (Rich widows: My Bitcoin address is... 1ETDmR4GDjwmc9rUEQnfB1gAnk6WLmd3n6)
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To: ShadowAce

The article is 100% spot on when he says users do not like change. That is so true and so to the point.

I would make a couple of points.

Gnome3 is far from perfect but I use it every day on two machines and I’ve never been more efficient. Would I change things about Gnome3? Sure I would. But is it usable in its current form? Absolutely it is.

The word “mess” I think has been incorporated into the collective subconcious because Linus Torvalds at one point famous pronounced Gnome3 an “unholy mess”. However, I now know that Linus himself is using Fedora 18 - he may not be using Gnome3 (probably not) but he’s getting stuff done with one DE or another.

One thing that I’ve noticed in reading the Gnome team’s frequent postings - people who work in such a project are *obsessed* about look and feel sorts of issues - as I guess you would expect them to be. Just as you would expect Kernel folks not to be :) They’ll go on and on about window placement algorithms or square corners versus rounded corners. If I could change one thing I’d request that they be a bit more forest oriented and less anal-retentive about corners and borders and how long a notification stays up or whatever the case may be but I don’t see that changing anytime soon because that’s probably just the nature of the beast.

11 posted on 04/10/2013 7:08:00 AM PDT by 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
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To: djf


My view is that all too many of the computer operating systems,desktop interfaces,and programs suffer from the egos of software writers showing off;continous improvement is one thing,but adding useless “features” and changing how everything works only slows down the machine and the work.

If the software people designed cars,the steering wheel and gas pedal would be in a different place in every car and change from year to year.And you’d need a different fuel,too!

The basic windows concept is fine and you can add me as another who doesn’t like change that doesn’t bring significant new benefits.

I also despise software that tries to anticipate your next action and re-arranges the desktop based on past work.

When I put something in place A it should stay there!

12 posted on 04/10/2013 7:09:03 AM PDT by hoosierham (Freedom isn't free)
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To: Bigh4u2

Running mint 12 here, no troubles at all .

13 posted on 04/10/2013 7:14:32 AM PDT by sopwith (don't tread on me)
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To: SgtHooper

The answer to the question is ‘yes’.

My wife’s knowledge about computers is about as ‘basic’ as you can get, and she had no problem switching from
Windows to Linux.

Linux Mint interface is nearly identical to what she was used to so there was no confusion.

14 posted on 04/10/2013 7:22:59 AM PDT by Bigh4u2 (Denial is the first requirement to being a liberal)
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To: ShadowAce

xfce4 and openbox on my arch and debian installations

Don`t care for the gnome3 particularly..kde I use a bit.

Tried the ubuntu but really don`t care for unity.

Ran unity on arch,but it was more trouble than it was


15 posted on 04/10/2013 7:29:53 AM PDT by Harold Shea (RVN `70 - `71)
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To: sopwith

I’m running Bodhi Linux with E17 on this Thinkpad 390E PII 333 ,256mb ram and it runs great ,if you can use windows you can use linux ,plus you have tons of Free software with linux

16 posted on 04/10/2013 7:51:05 AM PDT by molson209
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To: ShadowAce

Linux will ALWAYS be a mess as long as there are multiple parties publishing multiple versions.

17 posted on 04/10/2013 7:55:32 AM PDT by BubbaBasher ("Liberty will not long survive the total extinction of morals" - Sam Adams)
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To: ShadowAce

Isn’t Linux the only “FR approved” operating system?

18 posted on 04/10/2013 7:57:07 AM PDT by nascarnation (Baraq's economic policy: trickle up poverty)
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To: djf
Plain. Simple.

I'll buy that.

You and I are on different ends of the business - I am a service tech, servicing primarily SOHO and Residential- But the principle is the same. I have been installing *nix in residential applications for some years now, and I never hear a peep... Until they (the nix dist) start screwing with the interface design. Then it's hours of phone time, trying to get my clients settled again.

One of the things I have always liked about Linux is that it doesn't change the interface very much (considering how long things have been around).

But don't get me wrong - MS Windows is a far more worthy culprit. Most of my help-desk type calls right now are "How do I do XXXX in Windows 8?"

At least you have the 'convenience' of handling a major change all at once. For me it may stretch out for years as each of my clients upgrade and run into the new thing. Horror Highway. And I seldom get paid for help-desk things.

19 posted on 04/10/2013 9:30:15 AM PDT by roamer_1 (Globalism is just socialism in a business suit.)
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To: ShadowAce

No. Unity really does suck...

Rest of the article is pretty good.

20 posted on 04/10/2013 9:33:59 AM PDT by Dead Corpse (I will not comply.)
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